I am a longtime bike commuter and a general fan of bicycling around New York. I liked to ride to work twice a week in fair weather, a practice I continued right up to the start of the pandemic, when commuting got turned on its head.
Since the start of the pandemic, like many others, I no longer have a regular commute. Which means I don’t get to bike to work—but I don’t take mass transit to work, either. After 20 years of near-daily trips downtown, I suddenly had no need for an unlimited-ride Metrocard. I’m a longtime fan and supporter of the subway system, but my use cases dwindled, and along with it, my enthusiasm for going underground.
Enter Citibike. For all my cycling around the city, I’ve always struggled with where to leave my bike when I get to where I’m going; bikeshare eliminates that problem, with docks every couple of blocks. Hopping on a bike meant fresh air, exercise, and not dealing with the transit system. And then there’s the ebike.
Riding the Citibike ebikes are an adult equivalent of what kid cyclists feel when their parents give them a push. Step on the pedal, and a light mechanical whir provides an instant boost. It makes slow rides fast and flattens out hills. This morning, I rode a standard Citibike (sigh) and traveled 1.5 miles in 15 minutes; this afternoon, for the return trip, I went 2.2 miles on an ebike in just 12 minutes.
That time, by the way, turns out to be an 11 mph clip. New York’s subways average a paltry 17 mph these days, and buses in Manhattan just 6 mph. Grabbing an ebike means I get to my destination in half the time of a bus, and not much longer than a train—and that’s without factoring in wait times, delays, or going out of my way to a station.
In fact, it can be quicker. My recent rides, for example, were to 11th Avenue in the west 50s, not exactly a great place to find the MTA, and home from east midtown to the Upper West Side, which usually involves three different subway lines. For the latter, I cut my travel time nearly in half. Going to Zabar’s takes 15-20 minutes by bus or train, but on an ebike it’s barely a five minute ride.
In addition, Citibike ebikes are, simply stated, fun. It’s a great rush to feel a bicycle zip along without strain; one feels in control but also along for the ride. The next generation ebikes are especially satisfying, as they are sturdier and heavier, making the experience feel like a cross between a standard bicycle and a motorized scooter. An ebike ride provides a little cardio, too, because it’s still a bike that needs to be pedaled. So the trip is active instead of passive, yet relaxed enough to avoid breaking a sweat on the way to a meeting.
I have an annual Citibike membership (thanks Citibank!) so my ebike rides delightfully affordable. That ride from midtown cost $2.48. Which, now that I lack that 30-day Metrocard, compares favorably to the $2.75 cost for a single ride with the MTA. Fresh air, light exercise, and spare change back in my pocket? I’ll take that trade every time.
So I’ve become an ebike regular: to appointments without a direct subway route, to business lunches, to meet friends after work, to save time going crosstown. If my route sends me into Central Park, so much the better. Because what better way to do New York than with high-speed, point-to-point, cost-efficient personal transport?